Marionettes: From Funeral Marches to Team America

Marionettes have been scaring the bejeezus out of people for a long time.

A marionette is a puppet controlled by strings or wires by a hidden person, called a manipulator.

Some historians believe that this kind of puppetry goes back to 2000BC and that this type of theatre actually pre-dates using live actors on stage.

Wire-controlled clay and iron puppets have even been found in ancient Egyptian tombs.

And throughout time, marionettes have been as scary as hell.

Boy, Howdy
A marionette, in the form of Howdy Doody, was the very first image that some Baby Boomers saw on tiny snow-static TV screens in the early 1950's.

Now there's a show that was some kind of strange brew. Howdy Doody was one of the most popular children's show of all time though it had two of the most frightening visages of all -- marionettes and clowns.

Oh, you still don't believe that marionettes are scary?

Then you don't really know why the intro of the old Alfred Hitchcock Presents program was so very disturbing.

It was the theme song, composed by Charles Guonod and titled The Funeral March of a Marionette.

And isn't that exactly what this piece sounds like???

Note: Gounod also had a hand in composing the melody of Ave Maria, which is the musical background of the most haunting and downright frightening scene in Disney's Fantasia.

But we digress.

We're talking marionettes here.

If there was a golden age for this kind of puppetry it was the late 1950's and early 1960's when Gerry Anderson created something called Supermarionation.

This innovation added some electronics to the mix that smoothed out some of the puppet motion, especially in mouthing dialogue.

Anderson's improvements helped to diminish some of the creepiness of the art form and launched several iconic children's TV adventures.

Like Thunderbirds...

And Fireball XL-5...

And our personal favorite, Supercar!

These kid's shows were spoofed, quite expertly, in the very adult 2004 film Team America, World Police.

This movie by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, creators of TV's South Park, got great critical reviews but only made a shade more than $30 million at the US box office.

The film didn't take sides in the liberal-conservative tango and took no prisoners, bashing those on the right and the left of the Iraq-WMD controversy close on the heels of the US invasion.

Even Gerry Anderson distanced himself from Team America, refusing to take a meeting with the film's producers because he objected to the number and nature of expletives in the script.

Offers we can't refuse.
Perhaps what scares us most about marionettes is not the way they look or the way they move, but the very essence of what they are.

As we said, a marionette is a puppet controlled by a hidden person, called a manipulator.

Maybe in a world of handlers, spin doctors and image consultants, we've seen the real damage that manipulators can do in politics and business when operating behind the scenes.